DiGRA 2005: Changing Views: Worlds in Play, 2005 International Conference

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Playful Play with Games: Linking Level Editing to Learning in Art and Design

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Date created: 
2005-05-30
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There are different ways how meaning is creating in and around games. What I am presenting here as "Playful Play with Games" is about creative involvement with games mainly game modding and re-appropriating of games. Playful play means to become a creator or writer in addition to a reader and player, but nonetheless with a playful attitude and a good understanding of the game at hand. Three levels of meaning produced in and around games can be distinguished: Meaningful play, meaning beyond play, and creatively added meaning. Meaningful play in "Rules of Play" [Salen, Zimmermann 2004] is described as "The meaning of an action in a game resides in the relationship between action and outcome." Meaningful play regards the fact that a game must have a meaning in itself to allow for gameplay. This meaning develops when the player or players enter the magic circle of gameplay and it disappears when the gameplay ends. Meaning beyond play is about the experience gained during play that continues to exist and unfold outside of the magic circle in the daily routine of professional or private life. The understanding of meaning beyond play is important with regard to questions of how games influence our daily lifes, i.e. the question of how games may or may not lead to violent behaviour or how game-like features for can actually be re-appropriated for learning environments. In both areas false assumptions about the effect of games are made. In the case of learning environments game-like systems where implemented that can lead to very motivated and concentrated play, but comparingly little learning. In other words: Environments that produce little meaning that continues beyond the playing of the game. But, as Malone points out, "experimental studies of what makes computer games fun identified design features that not only sustained focussed attention but also facilitated learning, including self-directed learning." [Malone, Lepper, 1987]. In the case of violence it can seem obvious that the violence of the game automatically gets transported into daily life. There is even some evidence for this assumption as well as counter examples. To understand better how games can have a negative effect it is necessary to take a closer look at how and when meaning is transported out of the magic circle of gameplay. Creatively adding meaning happens when the player becomes a creator or editor of the game and is generally referred to as modding. Examples are the editing of levels of first-person shooter games, creating environments and new characters for the Sims, giving new names to the pawns of chess, or changing the rules of monopoly. These alterations require a creative process, which is a meaning generating action in itself. The player-creator’s attitude is a playful one when exploiting the system, fighting with the constraints, modifying the meaning, searching for a new sense, and repurposing the media. Modding includes the need to understand the game at hand and make conscious decisions about the way to alter it. The essence of the game has to be understood as well as the implications of any changes to it. Regarding the content or message there are different attitudes possible for modifying a game, like: Subversion of the original game, combination with features new to the game, overlay of information or specific messages, or the abstraction of the game to enhance specific features. In the art world we can find interesting examples: Robert Nideffer subverts Tomb Raider with his Lara patch by adding a moustache and a beard to the overly female figurine of Lara Croft. "This patch questions whether Lara is a lesbian butch Mona Lisa or a drag queen who forgot to shave." [Schleiner 2004]. Jodi’s Untitled Game [Jodi 2004] is a collection of modifications of Quake reducing the graphics beyond the minimum. The game becomes almost unplayable, letting features like the spatialized sound or shifts in the visual patterns gain importance for the perception of what may possibly be going on. Jahrmann/Moswitzer take a contrary approach in the Nybble Engine project. They increase the complexity of the overall behaviour in Unreal Tournament by replacing objects with programs. "The methodological framework of orientation for the Nybble Engine project is a radical/reconstructivist meta-art. ... This kind of art marks the end of the aesthetic era of the self-description of the art system." [Climax Team 2003]. In the conference presentation I will show examples of learning environments in which we successfully integrated game-like features on the one hand and examples from a series of workshops about creatively adding new meaning to games on the other. The discussion will focus on the features and the reason for their relevance towards the aim of the courses and workshops. The examples include: "digital territory" a course on presence in the virtual world of communication networks. game-like aspects were added to emphasize the functioning of the digital realm. "p(x)" an environment for learning and creative collaboration where the rules guide the collective creative process. "outside-inside-out" a course for architecture students focussing on the design of spaces and virtual spaces in particular. "Mediated Discourse" where level editing served a s a means to think and communicate. And the "Alice" workshop on remediation, recreation and recombination of games. References Climax Team, (2003). Nybble-Engine-Project, in Nybble Engine, Climax Team Eds., CLIMAX, Vienna, Austria, p. 47 Jodi, (visited 11/30/2004). untitled game, http://www.untitled-game.org. Malone, T. W., and Lepper, M. R., (1987). "Making Learning Fun: A Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivations for Learning", in Aptitude, Learning and Instruction: Vol 3. Connotative and Affective Process Analyses, R. E. Snow and M. J. Farr, Eds. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale N.J. USA, pp. 223-253. Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E., (2004). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004. Schleiner, A.-M., (visited 11/30/2004). Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons, http://www.opensorcery.net/lara2.html.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Theory Wars: An Argument Against Arguments in the so-called Ludology/Narratology Debate

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Date created: 
2005-05-30
Abstract: 

This paper attempts to offer an alternative to the agonistic debate presented by Gonzalo Frasca in "Ludologists Love Stories Too," in Level Up, DiGRA 2003 conference proceedings. While Frasca’s position is that the ludology/narratology debate is spurious and fraught with misunderstandings, his paper simultaneously succeeds in deepening the gap by further polarizing the alleged two sides of a debate that, in Frasca’s words, "never took place." Furthermore, the paper adds to the misunderstandings by further mis-quoting and decontextualizing some of the points made by other authors. In this paper, I will argue that there is little value in categorizing scholars into two "camps," even if one is doing so in an attempt to bridge the gap. I will further build on arguments I have made in the past, some of which compliment the work of other game scholars, that to think about games in the simplistic terms of "narrative/not narrative" is neither useful nor productive, especially when applied in vague theoretical terms. Over the past decade, I have made the argument that games should not be looked at in terms of whether or not they are narratives by various theoretical definitions, but that "narrative" should be framed as an adjective rather than a noun. The more interesting question is not "Are they/are they not narrative?" but "In what ways are they narrative?" I have advocated the notion of "narrative properties," an approach which is outlined in my paper in First Person (Pearce, 2004) and which echoes work by other scholars such as Janet Murray (1997). In it, I propose an approach to narrative that privileges the player experience, rather than some particular theoretical and abstract school of thought. Thus, we can look at specific games and ask: In what way do they use narrative elements to enhance the player experience? Far too much of game scholarship is spent debating ideas in vague, broad terms, while greater value can be derived from looking at specific player experience. It is interesting to note that in "Ludologists Love Narrative, Too," while many theorists are named, only a single game is mentioned—chess—cited (and mis-quoted) from the paper mentioned above (Pearce, 2004). If you talk to the average game player (an easy task for any college professor), you quickly find that players have a very clear idea of the connection between story and gameplay. Many gamers I have talked to find cut scenes gratuitous and interruptive, offering little enhancement to the gameplay experience. On the other hand, they understand that a narrative encasement around gameplay, especially one that fits the game mechanic well, creates a higher level of engagement and a stronger connection with the game and its characters. Often cited by players is the introductory sequence of Half-Life. Here you are thrown at the onset into an in-game scenario which provides contextualized directions, and plunges you, in character, immediately into the story. Through a specific example such as this, we can begin to better understand the ways in which gameplay and story fit together. We can also look at the role of agency where the story is not told (as by a narrator) but lived through (as by a player.) A useful exercise is to look at the ways that stories have been adapted into games. We can begin with the popular Indiana Jones series by LucasArts, which builds its mechanic around the inherent game-like qualities of the films. Another example is Blade Runner by Westwood Studios. In this game, the key question the main character (the player) must ultimately address is whether he himself is a replicant. The game AI attempts to analyze the players’ shifting perception of his own identity through modeling player behavior. If the player behaves in a sympathetic fashion towards replicants, the game directs the player down one path; if he exhibits antipathy, he finds himself on a different path. (Pearce/Castle, Game Studies, 2002). This game was a bold attempt to integrate a genuine ethical struggle into a game. Here story and game are so intermingled that they are virtually indistinguishable from one another. While these are examples of ways to develop a game mechanic around a narrative framework, there are a range of games which take what could be called the "story kit" approach. In games such as The Sims or Everquest, players are given a set of options that allow them to craft their own stories through game play. This is an example of what I have referred to in the past as "emergent authorship," wherein players construct their own stories, many of which are meant to be shared with others, whether in the form of the social co-performance within the mechanic of an online game (Everquest), or through uploading storyboards or games in-progress for others to play (The Sims). This is less literary and more akin to techniques of improvisation and theater games, where performers (players) are given a set of parameters through which to develop impromptu stories. Alongside others in the field, such as Jenkins, Ryan and Murray, I have also advocated the notion of spatial narrative as applied to games. Game designers liberally borrow from a long legacy of spatial narrative practices, ranging from temples and cathedrals to theme parks. Myst is probably the most canonical example of this. Here the spatial design is inextricably tied to the game mechanic—there is really no way to separate the two. Furthermore, the narrative is embedded in the space in a deconstructed form (in fact, the game’s goal is precisely that—to reconstruct the story.) We can also easily see how spatial narrative and emergent authorship can merge in a games like The Sims or Everquest. These are just a handful of examples, but they illustrate the complexity of the game/story problem, and set the stage for a richer, deeper discussion of the relationship between story and games which this paper will both advocate and illustrate. References (Additional references will be included in the final paper) Frasca, G. (2003). "Ludologists Love Stories, Too: Notes from a Debate that Never Took Place." Level Up, Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) Conference Proceedings, November 2003. Murray, J.H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MIT Press. Pearce, C. (1994). "The Ins & Outs of Nonlinear Storytelling." Computer Graphics, Volume 28, Number 1, May 1994. Pearce, C. (1997). The Interactive Book: A Guide to the Interactive Revolution. Indianapolis, Macmillan Technical Publishing. Pearce, C. (2002). "Story as Play Space: Narrative in Games." King, L. (ed.) Game On Exhibtion Catalog. London, Lawrence King Publishing Limited. Pearce, C. (2002). "Emergent Authorship: The Next Interactive Revolution." Computers & Graphics,Winter 2002 Pearce, C. (2002). "Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go: A Conversation with Will Wright," Game Studies, Volune 2, Issue 1. Pearce, C. (2002). "The Player with Many Faces: A Conversation with Louis Castle," Game Studies, Volune 2, Issue 2. Pearce, C. (2004). "Towards a Game Theory of Game." in Wardrip-Fruin, N. & Harrigan, P. (eds.). First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. Jenkins, H.. (1998). "Games as Gendered Playspace." in Cassell, J. & Jenkins, H. (Eds.) From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. Cambridge, MIT Press. Jenkins, H. (2004). "Game Design as Narrative Architecture." in Pat Harrington & Noah Frup-Waldrop (Eds.) First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Cambridge, MIT Press. Games Cited Blade Runner EverQuest Half-Life Indiana Jones series Myst NeoPets PacMan The Sims

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Playing And Learning Without Borders: A Real-time Online Play Environment

Date created: 
2005-04-18
Abstract: 

ENJEUX-S is a development/research project financed by the AAP program (Industry Canada) from November 2004 to November 2006. Its objectives are to develop and validate an advanced games and simulations environment, based on a Web Services and telecommunications architecture to support the development and experimental activities of the generic game and simulation shells of the SAGE portal. This environment will support multi-user functions by means of transactional and interpersonal types of interactivity. Relying on a Web Services model, the environment will allow real-time interaction (digital telephony or videoconferencing) and animation (video, voice, sound, graphics or images). This advanced environment will provide transparent support for games and simulations developed by means of the generic shells implemented in the SSHRC-INE project. The core of the ENJEUX-S project integrates the components of real-time communication in the domain of Internet-based educational games and simulations. This integration - one of the original aspects of this project - enables the utilisation of enhanced educational situations (feedback, on-line dialogue, immediate assistance, shared strategies, help, etc.), where the real world meets the virtual world so as to investigate simple or complex 2-D or 3-D learning situations. On the one hand, the addition of multimedia components to educational games and simulation interfaces (interactivity) and, on the other hand, the instantaneous and simultaneous interactions provided by the proposed architecture, allow the handling of educational situations where geographically dispersed users will be able to act together, make concurrent decisions and cooperate among themselves all in real-time, thus emphasizing the emotional, communicative and social potential of educational situations. In summary, the environment developed in the ENJEUX-S project aims at developing user-friendly, on-line training situations, based on dialogue and intervention in teleconferencing mode (virtual face-to-face). This workshop will first present the design stages underlying the development of this environment, followed by examples of the operation of the environment using games and simulations developed within the SAGE project. Finally, participants will be invited to comment on the proposed environment with respect to their training requirements.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Video games: A significant cognitive artifact of contemporary youth culture

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Date created: 
2005-04-18
Abstract: 

Education is not limited to formal schooling. Recreational video games have been relatively ignored as a means of informal education. In fact, they are usually seen as trivial without educational worth beyond eye-hand coordination and something from which educators, parents, and politicians must rescue children and distance themselves. Yet video game literacy demands mastery of significant cognitive skills. Unfortunately, there is a remarkably limited research literature in this area. Most merely infer that certain thinking skills and strategies occur based on the games’ structure and on learning theory (see Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004). Some is more targeted. A popular theme is spatial relations ability, spatial visualization, and perceptual speed, coupled with gender, age, or video game practice (e.g., the special edition, Vol. 15, JADP, 1994). Transfer of cognitive skills used in video game playing to formal educational settings is a minor focus (e.g., Camioni, Ercolani, Perrucchini, & Greenfield, 1990). Pillay, Brownlee, and Wilss (1999) demonstrated that video/computer game players are called on to reason inductively and deductively, make interferences across screens, and reason metacognitively. Keller's (1992) research supported the use of critical thinking skills while adventure and strategy games allowed time for reflective decision making (Greenfield, Camaioni, Ercolani, Weiss, Lauber, & Perucchini, 1994). The cognitive skills, strategies, and processes that teenagers utilize when playing an adventure-action video game will add innovative perspectives to the research literature. The research investigated the thinking skills and strategies utilized by four male and one female, 13 year old volunteers when playing "Final Fantasy IX". They had been playing video games for at least two years. The students were teacher-identified in terms of their academic abilities. Because the lack of interest in a game chosen by the researcher has negatively affected results (Greenfield, Brannon, & Lohr, 1994), participants were asked to nominate video games. Parents approved their choice, a fantasy adventure-action-role play which none of them had previously played. The research was a qualitative empirical study contextualized within information processing theory and the mediating process paradigm. The latter focuses on the fine-grained elements of cognition that are involved in information processing and thus mediate, or come between, stimuli and outcomes (Marland, Patching, & Putt, 1992). Audiotaped 50 minute stimulated recall interviews, designed to probe the players’ range and types of thinking skills and strategies employed within the context of their use, were conducted as each teenager played the game. Depending on parental choice, the interviews were conducted in the home video game environment or in the university lounge area to help promote context authenticity. The tapes were transcribed, with the coding and categorizations informed by the literature (e.g., Pausawasdi, 2002) and identified from the data. Eighteen types and a total of 600 instances of thinking skills were reported as being utilized during the students’ first encounter with the game. Higher order thinking skills were used by all students. It is not surprising that predicting what may happen and hypothesizing "if … then …" consequences of actions and events was the highest (135 instances). Evaluating the game, graphics, characters, and their own gameplay, was a significantly lower second (74). Justifying, rationalizing, and explaining was third (68); confirming the accuracy of their strategies, predictions, and ideas came fourth (55); and metacognizing their awareness of what they knew and did not understand and suggesting ways to troubleshoot their lack of comprehension, was fifth with 46 instances. The five teenagers engaged unevenly in some types of thinking skills, for example, judging, particularly issues of morality in the game, such as kidnapping, cheating, and using a slave, and generating ideas that went beyond the game play content and strategy. The teenagers demonstrated the same variability in the 13 strategies (N=182) they employed. Again, not surprisingly, exploration (33 instances), closely followed by trial and error (28), which is a legitimate problem solving approach though not the most efficient (Martinez, 1998), were the major strategies utilized as the teenagers were learning how this game worked. Two educationally important thinking strategies, deduction (25) and induction (13), had pleasing rates. Interacting through talking to the characters was common to all except for Tuck, yet Tuck still named his characters. Only Eyeore, the female player, did not name her characters. This is interesting when compared with the literature but it cannot claim significance given she was the only female in the study. The reported utilization of the 18 types and the 13 cognitive strategies were not correlated with the students’ academic school ability rating. The average rated student, Robot, had the second highest number (170) thinking skills, with 20 fewer than Tony but 59 more than Eyeore, who were both in the very high percentile at school. The very low achieving student, Zeuss, recorded (75) thinking skills while the low ability rated student, Tuck, reported 54. With respect to the strategies used, Robot reported the highest number of instances (56), with Zeuss again "beating" Tuck (26:19). These findings strongly support the argument that recreational videogames have cognitive worth. In terms of overall cognitive processes, the players had to work out how the symbols, icons, images, and control buttons acted individually and in unison, particularly as they did not behave in the same ways in the games that the students had previously played. They had to attend simultaneously and selectively to a number of different pieces and types of information displayed on various parts of one screen and from one screen to the next; that is, they had to further develop their skills of parallel processing (Greenfield, Camaioni, Ercolani, Weiss, Lauber, & Perucchini, 1994). Indeed, what the data shows is that they were engaged in a process of transforming and manipulating their mental models of previous games and gameplaying with this game and its quite different gameplay. Even with such a short playing time as this research episode, the data revealed that playing Final Fantasy IX provided a beneficial informal educative experience. The students engaged in cognitive skills, strategies, and processes valued in classrooms. A major implication is that teachers need to acknowledge this and develop ways to ensure that there is transfer into academic contexts. The research contradicts opinion by confirming that recreation video games are a significant cognitive artifact of youth culture. References Camioni, L., Ercolani, A., Perrucchini, P., & Greenfield, P. (1990). Video games and cognitive ability: The transfer hypothesis. Italian Journal of Psychology, 17(2), 331-348. Greenfield, P., Brannon, D., & Lohr, D. (1994). Two-dimensional representation of movement through three-dimensional space: The role of video game expertise. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15(1), 87-103. Greenfield, P., Camaioni, L., Ercolani, P., Weiss, L., Lauber, B., & Perucchini, P. (1994). Cognitive socialization by computer games in two cultures: Inductive discovery or mastery of an iconic code? Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15(1), 59-86. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. (1994). 15, Special Edition. Kirriemuir, J., & McFarlane, A. (2004). Literature review in games and learning. Report 8. Bristol: NESTA Futurelab. Retrieved November 27, 2004, from Http://www.nestafuturelab.org/research/reviews/08_01.htm Marland, P.W., Patching, W.G., & Putt, I. (1992). Learning from text: Glimpses inside the minds of distance learners, Townsville: James Cook University. Martinez, M. (1998). What is problem solving? Phi Delta Kappan, 79, 605-609. Pausawasdi, N. (2001). Students’ Engagement and Disengagement when Learning with IMM in Mass Lectures. PhD Thesis. Townsville: James Cook University. Pillay, H., Brownlee, J., & Wilss, L. (1999). Cognition and recreational computer games: Implications for educational technology. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 32(1), 203-216.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

The Narrative and Ludic Nexus in Computer Games: Diverse Worlds II

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Date created: 
2005-04-15
Abstract: 

This study demonstrates the relationship between the two major approaches in contemporary video game theory, narrative architecture and ludic design, by interrogating their application in 80 contemporary significant titles. The debate between narratologists and ludologists has run that games are either optimally story-telling or optimally play-based media. This study forces together theoretical concepts of narrative architecture from Jenkins’ (2003) and others and the ludological typology from Aarseth, Smedstad and Sunnana (2003). In four steps we… 1. identified narrative and ludological concepts, 2. determined the meaning of the concepts in concrete terms so that they could be observed in contemporary games, 3. deconstructed titles in the five major gaming platforms to observe the presence or absence of the narrative and/or ludological concepts, and 4. analysed the results to explicate patterns of nexus between narrative architecture and ludic design. The Diverse Worlds Project is an ongoing large-scale interdisciplinary study of computer game texts. The first study (Brand, Knight and Majewski, 2003), was a content study of 130 top-selling games in the five dominant platforms. It presented a quantitative baseline of over 90 measures for representation of physical space, characters, style and narrative. Diverse Worlds II picks up where the original project ended. It adds to the data pool an additional 80 titles selected as the most significant produced between 2002 and 2003 on the basis of popular critical acclaim . More importantly, in addition to studying physical space, characters and style, Diverse Worlds II extends the focus of the project to study the nexus of narrative and ludic factors, the focus of this paper. Tthe titles for this project included potential canonical works such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Metroid Prime, The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker, Max Payne II, Advance Wars II: Black Hole Rising, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Super Mario Sunshine, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight. Seven narrative factors studied in Diverse Worlds II included the narrative model (Majewski, 2003), narrative architecture (Jenkins, 2003), formal system, degree of player causal influence, temporal setting, manipulation of story order, range of story information, and depth of story information (all Bordwell & Thompson, 2001). Three-fourths of games in this study featured a narrative formal system. About a tenth each were pseudo-narrative and non-narrative. In terms of those games that exhibit narrative form, half employ a string of pearls narrative model. This model uses a series of pre-set events between which the player has a degree freedom. However, the player can only progress according to the designers’ narrative structure as determined by the pre-ordained sequence of events. According to Jenkins (2003), "Environmental storytelling creates the preconditions for an immersive narrative experience in at least one of four ways: spatial stories can evoke pre-existing narrative associations [referred to as evoked narrative]; they can provide a staging ground where narrative events are enacted [enacted narrative]; they may embed narrative information within their mise-en-scene [embedded narrative]; or they can provide resources for [the player to imagine or author] emergent narratives [emergent narrative]." Nearly three-fourths of games in this study employed evoked narrative, four-fifths use enacted narrative, nearly half use embedded narrative and just over a tenth use emergent narrative. More than half of narrative games are set in the present, very few manipulate story order, most restrict the range of story information and present it objectively. Twelve ludological factors drawn from Aarseth et al. (2003) included topography, environmental control, temporality in terms of pace, representation and teleology, player structure, mutability of character powers, savability, determinism, and rules including topological, time-based and objective-based rules. The overwhelming majority of games in the study offered geometrical topography allowing freedom of movement that is continuous in the game space. Very few games allow dynamic control of the game environment. Temporality is presented in real-time rather than turn-based, mimicking the real world and time is finite in which the player reaches a clear winning or end state. Most games employ the traditional single- or two-player player structure with less than a third offering more complex player permutations. Most games reward the player with experience levelling mutability of the player’s character; less than half of games offer temporary mutability mainly in the form of power-ups. Savability of the game is conditional in two-thirds of texts. Random and/or intelligent environments are the exception with nearly two thirds of games employing deterministic responses to player input during game play. Topological rules feature in two-thirds of texts, time-based rules are used in less than half of games while objective-based rules are the norm. The Nexus Forcing together narrative and ludic dimensions of computer games reveals the connections and, indeed, potential interdependence of narrative and ludic functions in this emerging medium. The full paper explores connections between each of Jenkins’ four narrative architectures and Aarseth et al.’s twelve ludological factors. It provides a matrix of surprising relationships. Take for example, the relationship between emergent narrative and ludic principles. In this nexus, ludic principles feed the openness of the emergent narrative architecture. Geometrical topography allows the freedom of movement and options for play that "provides resources" for environmental storytelling in the imagined and player-authored diegesis. Similarly, environmental control tends to be dynamic, allowing players to engage in authoring experience. The ludic principles of time in emergent narrative naturally exhibit real-time pacing, mimetic temporal representation and infinite teleology. The emergent diegesis, by virtue of possessing a player-centred construction, lends itself to single-player or multiple-player (but ultimately individual play) structures. The relationship so far between the emergent narrative and ludic principles suggests more fidelity to nature and realism. Indeed, in this way, emergent games exist in a non-deterministic universe much more often than games not exhibiting an emergent narrative system. Furthermore, aside from groundbreaking texts such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002), which is one of the few that employs all four narrative architectures, temporary mutability (power-ups for instance) has little or no function when emergent architecture dominates. References Aarseth, E., Björk, S., Klabbers, J. H. G., Smedstad, S. M., & Sunnana, L. (2003, 4th-6th November). Symposium: What's in a game? - Game taxonomies, typologies and frameworks. Paper presented at the Level Up Games Conference, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2001). Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill. Brand, J.E., Knight, S.J. and Majewski, J. (2003, 4th-6th November). The Diverse Worlds of Computer Games: A Content Analysis of Spaces, Populations, Styles and Narratives. Paper presented at the first Level Up Digital Games Research Conference, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. Jenkins, H. (2003). Game Design as Narrative Architecture. Retrieved 16 November, 2003, from web.mit.edu/21fms/www/faculty/henry3/games&narrative.html Majewski, J. (2003). Theorising Video Game Narrative. Minor Thesis for the Degree of Master of Film and Television, Bond University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

The things we learned on Liberty Island: designing games to help people become competent game players

Date created: 
2005-05-27
Abstract: 

Although interest in the use of games to support education is growing (e.g. Dawes & Dumbleton, 2001; McFarlane et al, 2002; Mitchell & Savill-Smith, 2004), there is relatively little research into how people learn to play games. This is surprising, since VanDeventer and White (2002) have demonstrated that game players demonstrate characteristics of expert behaviour and Gee (2003) argues that highly successful implicit theories of learning are embedded in well-designed games. In spite of these perspectives, which treat games as pedagogic texts or designs, there is a paucity of studies exploring the detail of gameplay in naturalistic environments (Squire, 2002). This obviously has implications for design, since the lack of formal analysis means that current practice relies on conventional wisdom; research-based recommendations for design in this context could be provided, but are currently absent. Symptomatic of this is the fact that the emphasis within this research tradition has typically fallen upon the design of the game text rather than on the interaction between text and player. As a result, recommendations have remained largely inferential. What was a missing was a method that looks at the process and outcomes of play and relating these to the design of the game text as well as the social and cultural aspect of play (Squire, 2002). A new methodology was developed that uses activity theory (Kuutti, 1996; Engestr?m, 2001) to examine educational aspects of game playing practice, which was piloted with a study of one childÍs performance within the game Harry Potter and the PhilosopherÍs Stone (Oliver & Pelletier, 2004). This definition of learning in game playing provides a model for the systematic analysis of gaming within context. Within the pilot study, for example, it was possible to document examples of learning taking place within four areas: ´ Skilful tool use ´ The properties of in-game objects ´ Game conventions ´ Spaces within the game It was also possible to identify a set of six simple rules that explained all of the playerÍs behaviour during the recorded game-playing excerpt (of 30 minutes): 1. ñSpot unusual objects and click on themî 2. ñIf you canÍt progress (e.g. a door wonÍt open), systematically explore the area until you find something you missedî (Note: this typically led to uses of rule 1) 3. ñIf you see a block, levitate it onto somethingî 4. ñIf youÍve run out of things to click on, move on to a new areaî 5. ñIf you havenÍt explored an area, do soî 6. ñIf there is a threat, move past it carefully (positioning and timing)î. Having been surprised by the simplicity of this account, a more complex game was chosen for study ? Deus Ex. The intention was to identify (1) whether comparable explanatory rules could be generated, (2) whether the examples of learning and corresponding rules were indeed more complex for this game, and (3) whether a structured training level serves a useful educational purpose in preparing players to engage competently with the game. To achieve this, two hoursÍ worth of play was analysed for each of two players. Both were experienced gamers, although neither had much experience with first-person shooters and neither had played this particular game before. One player completed the training level then undertook the first mission (Liberty Island); the second simply attempted to play the first level without prior training. (This difference in approach provides a useful contrast that enables us to draw conclusions about the value of training levels.) The analysis revealed that comparable examples and rules could be generated, but highlighted that not all new situations within the game were ïlearningÍ in the sense predicted by activity theory; others illustrated examples of previously-learnt tactics being transferred, either from other games or from earlier situations within Deus Ex. Additionally, there was evidence that the game was more complex, with greater quantity and variety of things learnt, and a more extensive and nested structure of rules guiding play. In the light of this, the analysis of the impact of training revealed that this introductory level did help the player to develop strategies useful for tackling the first level, but that it was flawed in several respects, including inconsistent pedagogic approach, omissions and situations inconsistent with the main game which diminished its impact. It is also worth noting that there was also no evidence from this study that a specially designated training level is the most productive means of player induction. Finally, the implications of these findings for designers ? particularly designers of the openings of games, training levels or otherwise ? will be discussed. Issues of content, approach and also format will be considered, including proposals for alternatives to training new players before permitting them to enjoy the game proper. References Dawes, L and Dumbleton, T (2001) Computer games in education project. http://www.becta.org.uk/page_documents/research/cge/report.pdf; URL last accessed 15th July, 2004. Engestr?m, Y. (2001) Expansive learning at work: towards an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14 (1), 133-156. Gee, J. (2003) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. Kuutti, K. (1996). Activity theory as a potential framework for human computer interaction research. In Nardi, B. A. (Ed.), Context and consciousness: Activity theory and human-computer interaction, 17-44. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. McFarlane, A., Sparrowhawk, A. & Heald, Y. (2002) Report on the educational use of games: An exploration by TEEM on the contribution which games can make to the educational process. Cambridge: TEEM. Mitchell, A. & Savill-Smith, C. (2004) The use of computer and video games for learning: a review of the literature. London: Learning and Skills Development Agency. Oliver, M. & Pelletier, C. (2004) Activity theory and learning from digital games: implications for game design. Paper presented at the conference, Digital Generations: Children, young people and new media. London. Squire, K. (2002) Cultural framing of computer/video games. GameStudies, 2 (1), http://www.gamestudies.org/0102/squire/. URL last accessed 20th July, 2004. VanDeventer, S. & White, J. (2002) Expert behaviour in childrenÍs video game play. Simulation & Gaming, 33 (1), 28-48.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Challenge Balance and Diversity: Playing TheSims and TheSims2

Date created: 
2005-06-01
Abstract: 

What is the attraction of games? This is a question that both game researchers and the industry would like to shed light on, (albeit for different reasons). There are no simple answers to this question, but I believe that one of the answers is "challenge". All games, except those of pure chance, present the player with limits (rules) and goals that must be met within those limits. In other words, games present players with challenge. Thus, gaining an insight into the use and function of challenges in games is likely to lead to a deeper understanding of not just the game as concept, but the actual games that players spend so much time engaging with. For this reason, I am currently developing a framework and analytical method based on the notion of challenge. In the proposed paper, I will analyse The Sims 2(TS2)(1), using the concepts and understanding provided with the challenge perspective. The aim is twofold. I both want to produce an exemplary analysis and, in the process of doing this, to evaluate the approach as it appears so far. Due to the limited amount of pages, the various concepts will only be introduced briefly while more thorough discussions may be found elsewhere.(2) Firstly, "challenge" will be briefly defined and the questions informing the analysis will be raised. Then follows an integrated analysis and concept presentation, where the proposed tools will be introduced at the relevant points during the analysis. The paper will conclude with a summary of the findings as wells as with an evaluation of the analytical concepts proposed as part of the challenge perspective. Enter challenge Briefly defined, a challenge is a situation of resistance that calls for transformative action on the part of the challenged and whose outcome is not certain from the beginning. Taking a game-related example, the player encounters a challenge when a horde of bloodthirsty monsters suddenly rush towards the PC in a dark dungeon. The situation not only calls for transformative action (fight or flee), it is even required in this case. If the player does nothing, the game will soon be over. It is not self-evident that the player will be successful in overcoming the beasts, which makes it an uncertain situation. Challenges are the translation of a game’s rules and objectives into situations that can be experienced by the player. The challenge perspective on games seeks to address several problems. The one mainly relevant in this case is the provision of means for analysing challenges’ use and function in games. I believe an analysis of these aspects should focus on: 1)The types of challenges present in the game. These may either be producer intended (embedded by the producer), emergent (products of the systems properties that were not anticipated by its designers), or player-initiated (the player poses her own challenges within the context of the game system). 2)The relations between the challenges, that is, their ordering and pace. 3)The appearance of these challenges, that is, both the way they are made (or not made) apparent in the game and the way they may be (directly or indirectly) explained to the player. Based on empirical studies, analytical tools have been created in order to assist the answering of the above questions. Thus, a sample of six games from different genres have been analysed with regards to the types of challenges employed, and a typology of challenges has been created based on the findings.(3) The same is true of the other analytical concepts that are being developed. What is it good for? Apart from contributing to a deeper understanding of the game as a concept, I believe an analysis of the challenges in games has several uses. Thus, it will help to break down games into comparable components that are not based on genre, style, or story but on the core content of games. As this is done with games of different genres, the findings may be used for assessing and comparing those games. The knowledge gained from the analyses may even be helpful in game design, and the challenge categories may provide a useful and precise vocabulary for academics and designers alike. References (1) Maxis, (2004): The Sims 2, Electronic Arts. (2) My initial work on the challenge perspective is presented in my MA thesis Struggling towards a Goal: Challenges & the Computer Game (2003, Iversen, available for download at http://www.itu.dk/people/mosberg/texts/SMI_thesis.pdf). (3) See chapter three and seven op. cit. for a description of the games and the analysis of their challenges.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Motivations of Play in MMORPGs

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-06-01
Abstract: 

Every day, millions of people interact with each other in online environments known as Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). MMORPG players, who on average are 26 years old, typically spend 22 hours a week in these environments. Articulating motivational differences among different users is the precursor to understanding the emergence of more complex behaviors and interactions in these environments, as well as providing a framework to differentiate one user from another. Such a framework provides the foundation to explore whether different sections of the demographic are motivated differently, and whether certain motivations are more highly correlated with usage patterns or in-game preferences or behaviors. The following paper describes a study that used online survey data to create an empirical model of player motivations in MMORPGs and how those resulting motivations correlate with demographic variables and usage patterns. Bartle’s (1996) Player Types is a well-known taxonomy of Multi-User Domain (MUD) users derived from his experiences in creating and managing MUDs. These 4 Types - Achievers, Socializers, Explorers, and Killers - each have different in-game preferences and motivations for using the MUD environment. For example, Explorers are users who are interested in understanding the mechanics and rules of the system as well as mapping out the world, while Socializers are users who enjoy chatting, interacting and role-playing with other users. Bartle’s model provides an important foundation in understanding the motivations of different players, however, it suffers from three significant weaknesses. First, the proposed components of each Type may not be highly correlated. Second, the proposed Types might be overlapping and not truly distinct Types. And finally, the purely theoretical model provides no way to assess users as to what Type they might be. To resolve these weaknesses and build a more solid foundation for understanding player motivations, an empirical analysis was performed. A list of 40 questions that related to player motivations was generated based on Bartle’s Types and anecdotal information from earlier surveys of MMORPG players. Examples of these statements are: How important is it to you to level up as quickly as possible? How much do you enjoy helping other players? How often do you make up stories and histories for your characters? The response option for every question was a 5-point uni-polar construct-specific scale. For example, - Not Important At All - Slightly Important - Moderately Important - Very Important - Tremendously Important Data was then collected from 3000 MMORPG players through online surveys publicized at online portals that catered to MMORPG players from several popular MMORPGs - EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, and Star Wars Galaxies. A factor analysis was then performed on this data to separate the statements into clusters where items within each cluster were as highly correlated as possible while clusters themselves were as uncorrelated as possible. The methodology achieved three goals that overcame the inherent weaknesses of Bartle’s model. First, it ensured that the components of each motivation were indeed correlated. Second, it ensured that different motivations were indeed different. And finally, it would provide a way to assess player motivations. In a sense, this methodology was testing Bartle’s Types for validity and correcting for inherent problems with a purely theoretical model. One important theoretical distinction between Bartle’s types and the factors resulting this study is that Bartle argued that every player was predominantly motivated by one of the four types, whereas the factor model assumes that factors are uncorrelated and therefore it is possible for a player to score high on several factors. This is analogous to contemporary personality assessment tools (such as the Big-5). Just because someone scores high on Extraversion doesn’t mean they can’t also score high on Neuroticism. In other words, in the factor model, scoring high in one factor doesn’t exclude a player from any other factor, whereas Bartle’s model implicitly does so. Bartle’s model tries to categorize players into boxes. The factor model scores players on every factor. A factor analysis using principal components extraction produced 7 factors. All resulting factors had a Cronbach’s alpha of over .70. These factors were: 1) Achievement - The desire to advance the character as quickly as possible, as well as accumulate rare equipment and items, in order to become powerful within the context of the game. 2) Casual Social Interaction (Chat) - An interest in chatting and gossiping with other players. 3) Immersion - The desire to be immersed in a fantasy world and try out new roles and personalities with different characters. 4) Serious Social Interaction (Relationship) - An interest in forming strong, supportive relationships where personal issues can be shared. 5) Competition - The desire to challenge and compete with other players. In more extreme cases, the desire to annoy, manipulate or dominate other players. 6) Escapism - The interest in the virtual world derives from wanting to escape from the real world. 7) Explorer - The desire to explore the game’s mechanics and geography. By calculating the factor scores for the 3000 respondents, the data also allowed an understanding of how these motivations mapped onto gender and age differences as well as hours of play per week. T-tests on the motivation scores grouped by gender showed that male players were significantly more motivated by Competition and Achievement (p’s < .001, r’s = .26 & .19) while female players were significantly more motivated by Casual and Serious Social Interaction (p’s < .001, r’s = .10 & .26). Age was negatively correlated with Achievement (r = -.30), Casual Social Interaction (r = -.10) and Competition (r = -.34). And finally, the number of hours played per week was positively correlated with Achievement (r = .16), Serious Social Interaction (r = .12) and Escapism (r = .12). The empirical model developed in this study provides a solid foundation for future research in MMORPGs by providing a model to understand player motivations, a tool to assess those motivations, and thus also a means to understand usage patterns, in-game behaviors and demographic variables in relation to player motivations.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Realistic Agent Movement in Dynamic Game Environments

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-05-31
Abstract: 

Realistic and intelligent agent movement remains one of the greatest challenges for games developers. Path-finding strategies are usually employed as a means of allowing an agent to navigate from one part of the game world to another. Typically the game world is stored in a pre-processed structure called a map which contains all of the relevant geometry. In order to cut down the search space for the path-finder, this map is broken down and simplified. The path-finder then uses this simplified representation to determine the best path from the starting point to the desired destination. These simplified representations correspond to graphs, and algorithms such as Dijkstra and A* [6] can then be employed to quickly find paths between the nodes in the graph. The graph used is based on a pre-processed static representation of the game world. However, the assumption that the geometry of the game remains static during the course of play is not necessarily valid anymore. This difficulty is then compounded by the fact that the agent typically has no real-time awareness of the environment around it. This situation results in a number of problems for path-finders, each of which we now outline. The increasing use of physics engines opens up the possibility of completely dynamic game geometry, where the players and agents can physically alter the structure of the game world as play progresses, by knocking over walls for example [2]. Dynamic obstacles can therefore be introduced that block previously accessible nodes on the graph. When this happens the agent will still believe it can walk along this path due to its reliance on the preprocessed static graph. Techniques have been developed that improve the agents’ reactive abilities when dynamic objects obstruct a path. These work well in some situations, but generally the agent will not react until it has collided with an obstacle, as it has no sense of awareness until a trigger is set when a collision occurs. Another problem is the rigid and unrealistic movement that occurs when the agent walks in a straight line between nodes. This is caused by the dilemma which arises in the trade off between speed (the less number of nodes to search the better) and realistic movement (the more nodes, the more realistic the movement). This has been improved in some games by applying spline curves for smoothing out paths along nodes. A further problem is implementing tactical path-finding. This involves not just finding the shortest route but also the route that offers the most cover, or avoids unnecessary encounters with undesirable game entities. One approach is to modify the cost heuristic of A* to take line of fire from other enemy agents into account [7]. This has the benefits of adding realism to the game and also presents a less predictable opponent for the human player. The drawback is that due to the added cost, the search space becomes much larger for A* to process. This approach also assumes that the threat remains static during the paths duration, which is seldom the case. Generally game developers add in special case code to deal with these problems but typically this is only applicable to that particular game [1]. This paper examines these problems and introduces the concept of applying learning techniques to solve them in a new novel way [4]. Our solution to this problem is to provide the agent with a means of navigating its own way around the world, rather than simply relying on routes provided by the game engine. In order to accomplish this the agent requires two important abilities. Firstly it needs to be able to examine its environment in some way in order to know what is in front of it and around it, thus giving it real-time awareness. Secondly it needs some way of processing this information to accomplish tasks such as steering around obstacles that have been placed in its path. The first ability is achieved by embedding sensors in the agent. This is a concept borrowed from robotics where ultrasound or infrared sensors are common. We adapt this idea for our agents by casting rays which test for intersections with the game geometry. In this way information can be provided to the agent pertaining to the proximity of objects within its field of vision. The second ability is being able to process this information in some way. Our solution to this problem is to furnish each agent with an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) [3] which takes the sensor information as input. The ANN is a learning algorithm that we have trained to exhibit the behaviour we want – namely that the agent has the ability to steer around objects. We describe how this provides robust steering behaviour that is tolerant of noisy data. Another advantage of this approach is that the processing required is minimal and hence multiple agents can be imbued with this behaviour without causing a major strain on the CPU. This is used in conjunction with a traditional path-finding algorithm. The algorithm works out a path for the agent but the sensors and the ANN are responsible for moving the agent along that path, and are capable of adapting the path to steer around obstacles or other dynamically introduced geometric changes. Our system is implemented using the Quake 2 [5] game engine and we have extensively tested these ideas against more traditional approaches to path-finding. The game engine gives us a test bed whereby a genetic algorithm [6] is used in real-time to evolve the weights of the neural network. Since the sensors are influencing the agents movement in real-time, as it walks from node to node, it tends to gradually veer away from obstacles thus resulting in less rigid movement. Giving the agent this real-time awareness also compliments the tactical elements of pathfinding as the agent can be alerted in real-time to imminent threats. Our results indicate that this approach is extremely useful in the dynamic environments that are becoming the norm in modern computer games. References [1] Cain, Timothy, "Practical Optimizations for A*", AI Game Programming Wisdom, Charles River Media, 2002 [2] Eberly,David,H, "Game Physics", Elsevier, Inc, 2004 [3] Fausett, Laurene, "Fundamentals of Neural Networks Architectures, Algorithms, and Applications", Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1994. [4] Graham, Ross,"Neural Networks for Real-time Pathfinding in Computer Games", In proceedings of ITB journal, Issue 9 (2004) [5] www.idsoftware.com/games/quake/quake2/ [6] Russel, Stuart., Norvig, Peter., "Artificial Intelligence A Modern Approach", Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1995 [8] Van der Sterren, William,. "Tactical Path-Finding with A*", Game Programming Gems 3, Charles River Media, 2002

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Dialog as a Game

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-06-01
Abstract: 

We report on a novel technique to manage pre-written lines of character dialog by treating a conversation as a game played by the speakers. Thinking of a conversation as a game instead of as an information exchange means structuring it as a series of moves, made according to rules, with some sort of score kept by the speakers. We have developed our framework by studying the dialog in theatrical plays, which has been very helpful in finding a preliminary set of conversational rules. We believe this framework will eventually allow much more realistic NPC dialog than the usual decision trees. Speakers in our system converse by participating in "conversational fragments," or short fixed sequences of lines. They make "moves" in the conversational game by negotiating transitions between fragments. Speakers have some internal state variables which describe their current standing in the conversation, as well as their current emotional and physical state. Speakers try to manage the conversation so as to to maximize some "payoff function" of their internal variables. The internal variables govern the negotiations around transitions, so speakers with a poor set of internal variables may not be able to transition to more desirable (higher payoff function) fragments. Transitions may be requested during a fragment, as well as when it has finished. We have developed our framework by studying several short theatrical plays, and analyzing the dialog in them. We have identified many types of fragments and studied the transitions between them, as well as compiling a reasonable set of characters' internal state variables. The "payoff functions" clearly vary between individuals (and probably change with time), and so far we have only an ad hoc understanding of them. If all goes well, we should have some usable text-based demonstrations working for the DIGRA conference. Previously, we tried a system with a large "dialog mesh", made of interlocking threads of dialog. The dialog manager chose NPC lines from decision trees which were "pruned" based on an NPC's emotional state variables. The "pruned mesh" system was adequate for simple encounters (such as a frantic player character asking a cantankerous NPC gas-station attendant for directions), but lacked the depth and complexity needed for realistic conversation. We found that our characters simply needed more room to play with their words, and some way to keep score, than the "pruned mesh" system could supply. Our new system avoids these problems by allowing characters to participate in fragments purely for the joy of making a "bon mot", or scoring a point on the other speaker, regardless of whether any information is exchanged, or whether anything of any practical significance is accomplished at all. We believe that this technique will allow us to create much more lifelike NPC dialog than is currently present in games, and allow NPCs to play a much more prominent social role in game worlds. We also believe that games in general desperately need to have more socially coherent characters, and that improving dialog is a critical problem in game development today. There are many possible applications of this system outside of gaming- certainly "virtual tours" would benefit immensely from livelier NPC dialog, and applications in education, health maintenance, sales, consulting, help desks, and so on are obvious.

Document type: 
Conference presentation